HR Tip: Confidential witness statements from colleagues

25th Jan 2007
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These questions are being answered by Learn HR, a market leader in the provision of HR and payroll training and nationally-recognised professional qualifications.

Question: "We have been told by two of our employees that one of their colleagues committed a serious breach of our strict health and safety regulations, which put the safety, and perhaps even the lives, of other employees at risk. However they are not prepared to give us statements or take part in any disciplinary proceedings "because they are not snitches". Is there anything we can do?"

HR Tip:
You should do two things. Firstly, point out that they have already done the right thing by reporting the matter but would be acting irresponsibly by refusing to help you resolve it properly since people's lives might be put at risk in the future.

Secondly, point out that they may give their evidence anonymously. Take careful statements from each of them, read back what you have written and, if they agree with it, add at the end "This statement was made by the employee whose name is lodged (say, in the Company Secretary's safe) and who has confirmed that it is a true account". Do whatever is necessary to remove from the statement anything that might identify the witness.

Introduce the witness statements when you call the sinner to a disciplinary hearing. If he wishes to cross-examine the witnesses, write down the questions, adjourn the meeting, discreetly put the questions to the witnesses, write down the answers, reconvene the meeting, read out the answers – and then proceed in the normal way. This is perfectly legitimate and acceptable.

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